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INFIELD CHATTER: Get your over-under picks in, MLB is almost here

Starting season previews with AL Central, West

With three Infield Chatter installments left before the regular season starts in earnest, and since it’s never too late to put my awful predictions on paper, here’s one dope’s guess at how Major League Baseball will shake out over the next six months.

This year instead of one look at each league, we’ll give two divisions a spotlight per week, starting with the least interesting. I blended Fangraphs projections and Bovada gambling lines to come up with over-under numbers for each team, and I’ll do my best to pick correctly. Last year only 13 teams hit the over, from the Cubs by a half game to Oakland by a whopping 20.5. The single biggest outlier was Baltimore winning only 47 games despite a line of 74.5, a differential of -27.5.

In 2017 I went a humiliating 9-21, but in 2018 improved to not just 15-15 but a perfect equilibrium in differential scoring, in which you gain or lose points based on each team’s wins compared to the line. Guessing every team correctly would be worth 253 points in my differential pool; one reader was good enough to get 101 points, while the biggest loser was in the red by 96.

AL Central (teams listed in projected order of finish; 2018 record in parentheses)
Cleveland — 91.5 (91-71; lost ALDS)
Minnesota — 83.5 (78-84)
Chicago —72.5 (62-100)
Detroit — 68.5 (64-98)
Kansas City — 68.5 (58-104)

No other division is picked to win fewer than 400 games, and the Central is pegged for 384.5. The 19 games between Cleveland and Minnesota might be the only contests between Central teams that end the season with winning records, and that’s only if the Twins can hold up their end of the bargain. That’s not to say the Central won’t be worth watching — the White Sox have a bevy of prospects, and Minnesota’s Willians Astudillo is a 5-foot-9-inch, 225-pound human highlight reel.

But the White Sox couldn’t land Manny Machado and so remain at least a year away from serious contention. The Twins are aiming for .500 based primarily on 38 games against the Tigers and Royals, neither of which appears interested in winning games this season. Kansas City is one of the safest under bets on the board now that veteran catcher Salvador Perez is out for the season with Tommy John surgery.

The entire division hit the under in 2018. I’d love to see the Sox go over, but doubt they’re 11 wins better. I’ll take Cleveland to go over — barely — but no one else in this division.

AL West
Houston — 96.5 (103-59, lost ALCS)
Oakland — 83.5 (97-65; lost Wild Card game)
Los Angeles — 82.5 (80-82)
Seattle — 73.5 (89-73)
Texas — 70.5 (67-95)

Houston remains both a powerhouse and the most fun team in the American League, and I feel good about taking the over. With Seattle trading away James Paxton and unsure how to handle an aging Felix Hernandez, the West is much shallower in 2019. That bodes well for Oakland’s chance to contend for a second straight wild card berth. The A’s look like one of the safest over bets on the board given how bad they’d have to stumble to drop by 14 wins.

The real intrigue in whether this division proves to be entertaining is whether the Angels will rebound in the first year after the lengthy tenure of manager Mike Scioscia. There’s still a lot of talent in the lineup, though how much offensive value Albert Pujols and Shohei Ohtani can provide remains to be seen, and a Matt Harvey renaissance could have dramatic upside. I wouldn’t have hired Brad Ausmus as skipper, but I’ll hold my breath and hope the over comes through (and that Ottawa’s Michael Hermosillo gets a lot more big league playing time this summer).

I definitely like the under for the Mariners and Rangers because both franchises need some serious retooling if they want to be players, while Houston’s contention window is wide open.

This year I created an online form for readers who want to play along. Access it here: https://goo.gl/forms/4wZggc09JMlwP8YO2 . I’ll share my picks for the other four divisions over the next two weeks, but you can guess today.

There are no stakes but pride.

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